Campaign to free seized Cuba aid hits the road

Campaign News | Sunday, 21 August 2005

The fight for computers for Cuban children goes on

Aug 20, 2005: In another sign of a “perfect storm” of support brewing for Cuba, the group Pastors for Peace announced that it is taking its struggle to win the release of humanitarian aid for Cuba on the road.

Last month, on July 21, the humanitarian aid headed for Cuba was seized at the U.S./Mexican border by the U.S. government-U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

They reportedly received their instructions from U.S. Customs, and are refusing to return the 43 boxes of computer equipment and 12 computers that were earmarked for Cuban children with special needs.

In spite of this repressive government action, the 16th Pastors for Peace caravan was able to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the Hildago/Reynosa International Bridge, with 140 tons of aid and most of the 11 vehicles and 150 members and travel on to Cuba.

Seven members of the caravan stayed with the seized materials to continue the campaign to win the release of the seized equipment and ensure that it gets to the Cubans as intended.

A recent statement from IFCO/Pastors for Peace explained that in the last few weeks those who stayed at the border established a very strong presence in the McAllen, Texas/Hildago, Mexico area. They have won support from area churches and community groups.

“We have received extensive local press coverage,” they report. “Just about everyone here knows who we are and why we are in town.”

But it’s become clear, they added, that the decision to free the equipment is not a low-level one that will be made in Hildago. “We were told,” they write, “that the order to seize the computers was given from a very high level of government, as high as the White House.”

Understanding where the pressure needs to be applied, IFCO-Pastors for Peace has announced that the next phase of the struggle will be to take the campaign to free the seized aid on the road.

One of the first stops was Aug. 15 at “Camp Casey,” set up outside President George W. Bush’s “Summer White House,” his ranch in Crawford, Texas. There, the Revs. Lucius Walker, Luis Barrios and Diane Baker met to show solidarity with anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, who set up the encampment to demand that Bush be held accountable for her son’s death as a soldier in Iraq.

Ellen Bernstein of Pastors for Peace, who is also on the caravan in Texas, told Workers World that the caravan has been extremely helpful in talking not only about the computers and the travel ban but also the Cuban 5. The bus they are on, she said, has pictures of the five on it, and Texans around the state are asking about the case.

The Pastors for Peace campaign will continue on to Alice, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and Austin, Texas, and to other cities that hosted the caravan as it made stops along its trip to Cuba.

While they’re on the road, the activist presence in Hildago will be maintained. Supporters from Mexico and the United States plan to hold weekly vigils on the bridge every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

To see photos and video clips about this important campaign, and for more information on how you can be a part of it, visit:

Long arm of the Bush administration touches Cuba caravan

Texas July 27: Most of an 11-vehicle, 150-member caravan hauling tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba, including donations from Austin-based Bikes Across Borders, has made it to the island nation. Seven caravanistas have stayed behind in the Texas-Mexico border city of Hidalgo, however, in an attempt to reclaim 43 boxes of computer equipment seized from two yellow school buses at the front of the caravan last Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers acting on orders from the Commerce Department.

The confiscated toner, cables, calculators, modems, keyboards, printers, and dozen computers are designated for "special needs" Cuban children, as are the rest of this year's caravan donations, said Ellen Bernstein, associate director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

IFCO is the parent organization of Pastors for Peace, the New York-based humanitarian group behind the annual trip.

Those who stayed behind in the Lower Rio Grande Valley's Hidalgo, across the river from Reynosa, are trying "to build an international campaign to free the computer equipment," according to a posting on the Friendshipment Caravan's blog (

This is the mostly volunteer Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba's 14th year and not the first time the U.S. government has seized aid from it.

In 1996, 400 computers were taken from the caravan, but were released after a 93-day fast by caravan members, Bernstein said. After that, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which was responsible for enforcing U.S. sanctions against Cuba, "understood that we were acting on the basis of moral principles," said Bernstein, referring to the fact that caravanists view the U.S. embargo against Cuba as an immoral policy. As IFCO Executive Director Lucius Walker Jr. put it in a press release, "The blockade endangers the lives of millions of Cubans and inflicts suffering on innocent children as well as adults."

The Bush administration, however, has since transferred Cuban embargo enforcement responsibilities to the Commerce Department, which declined to comment on the situation unfolding about 1,800 long miles from D.C. IFCO's attorney has been told that the Commerce Department is acting on instructions from as far up the chain of command as the State Department and the White House, Bernstein said. Bush's administration tightened U.S. restrictions against Cuba last year, despite urging from the United Nations and countries across the globe to end the Cuban blockade and travel ban.

In hopes of lobbying the McAllen-Hidalgo area's representative in Congress for help reclaiming the computers, the caravanistas remaining in the Valley spoke with Rep. Rubén Hinojosa's chief of staff Monday only to discover that thanks to redistricting, Lloyd Doggett was the man they most needed to talk to.

Tuesday, they visited the office of Doggett, who they found out is currently in Washington. "But we understand that he's already made phone calls to the Commerce Department on our behalf," Bernstein said. "We're expecting helpful responses from both of them. ? We intend to keep applying pressure."

Goods for Cuba Caravan Finally Gets Across US Border

Report files from Canadian activist Randy Caravaggio:

Of course, as you already know the U.S. government has done it again -- they held the 16th caravan to Cuba at the Mexican border for over 20 hours as they seized computers, technical equipment and threatened to storm the vehicles to remove everything -- even the caravanista's personal gear.

In the end, the caravanistas pushed the majority of aid and themselves over the border into Mexico. Today most of them arrived in Cuba ready to learn, share the solidarity from all of you with the Cuban people, see the devastation and relief efforts post-Dennis, and challenge the blockade yet again.

Mon, 25 Jul 2005 00:39:48 -0700


Hi Friends,

Our Goods for Cuba Committee would like to give a big thanks to all of you who were able to attend our event yesterday to commemorate and celebrate July 26th and the Cuban revolution. Of course, a special thanks goes to our Cuban speakers - Maria Cabezas, Orlando Fundora, and Manuel Yepe; our performers - Montrose Irregulars, the Esquimalt Jazz Combo, Hector Flores, the Victoria Grannies; and all our volunteers. We made it happen.

We believe that it was another successful event. We hope that we were able to bring our audience closer together and raise more awareness about the Cuban project and our campaign to make us more united and effective in our Friendship and Solidarity work. We were able to raise around two thousand dollars to send to Cuba for damages caused by Hurricane Dennis. We hope that we will be receiving more donations in the upcoming weeks.

Of course, as you already know the U.S. government has done it again -- they held the 16th caravan to Cuba at the Mexican border for over 20 hours as they seized computers, technical equipment and threatened to storm the vehicles to remove everything -- even the caravanista's personal gear.

In the end, the caravanistas pushed the majority of aid and themselves over the border into Mexico. Today most of them arrived in Cuba ready to learn, share the solidarity from all of you with the Cuban people, see the devastation and relief efforts post-Dennis, and challenge the blockade yet again.


Yes, one bus with all the computers & technical equipment and seven caravanistas stayed back. Now we need your help to get them moving again.

This gives us an opportunity for action.

If you have already made a phone call to the U.S. Commerce Department, great. PLEASE CALL AGAIN. Or at least send them an email.

Ask other folks and friends to call or email the Dept. of Commerce, and get their friends to do the same.

In the meantime, also contact your local MLAs, MPs, Minister of Foreign Affairs and PM to let them know that on July 3rd at the Peace Arch border at Blaine, U.S.; Customs officials let our 40 boxes of aid along with our caravanista from Victoria enter the U.S. Customs officials were given a list of the boxes' contents and their destination. After inspecting and clearly seeing that the aid was mainly computers and medical supplies, they told us we were free to cross into the U.S. with our humanitarian aid destined for Cuba.

Now, all of a sudden, officials from the U.S. Commerce Department at the U.S. /Mexican border in Hidalgo, Texas will not allow our Canadian computers (as well as computers collected from our friends in the U.S.) to leave the U.S.

Ask them to allow our computers to pass in Mexico on their trip to Cuba, to end the harassment by the U.S. Commerce Department, and to get rid of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

Again, this is an opportunity for us to participate in something concrete on the side of justice and for Cuba.

In solidarity,

Goods for Cuba




Contacts in the U. S.:

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez 202-482-2000


The White House comment line 202-456-1111

It has also come to our attention that harassment of the Caravan is coming straight from the desks of the

State Department. The person in charge of the Cuba desk is Kevin Whittaker. His phone number is


Pastors for Peace caravan to Cuba crosses the border: a near-total victory?

July 24, 2005,Pastors for Peace claimed a huge victory on Sunday as a tired but excited group of 130 US citizens crossed the US/Mexico border just before daybreak with almost all of the 140 tons of humanitarian aid en route to Cuba and collected by the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Cuba Caravan. Their struggle to send on the computers, which have been blocked by US authorities, is building momentum.

The caravan is composed of seven brightly painted yellow school buses, two box trucks, and several smaller vehicles, all of them loaded with humanitarian aid for Cuba. Yesterday, more than 40 US Customs officers, acting on the instructions of Commerce Department officials, detained the Caravan at the border and began to search their vehicle one item at a time. In an exhaustive 6-hour search of the first two yellow school buses. Officials confiscated all of the computers and computer equipment available? - 11 computers, three monitors, two printers, two scanners, and a variety of computer parts and accessories. Officials then threatened to tow the remaining vehicles carrying the rest of the aid. Meanwhile, members of the Caravan walked aid across the border and demonstrated beside the marooned buses.

Our caravans have delivered nearly 2500 tons of aid to Cuba since 1992, all of it without asking permission of the US government. But this year something changed: We have heard that government officials at the highest level made a special determination that this year our Pastors for Peace caravan would not pass,? said Rev. Walker. ?We?ve already proved them wrong: 95% of our caravan has already crossed into Mexico and is headed toward Cuba. Now we?re determined to get our computers to Cuba as well.

When those first computers were seized, we decided not to give up any more of our precious cargo. We regrouped at a location two blocks away from the border crossing,? said Rev. Walker. "There we decided that the best strategy was to send most of the caravan ahead with all the non-contested aid. So we unloaded and reloaded our vehicles, and everything but the computers passed through the Customs checkpoint between 3:00 and 6:00am. Just one bus stayed behind, with all our computers on board; and a few of us remain here in Texas to continue the fight for the computers."

"Our extraordinary group of committed and hard-working volunteers worked through the night to make sure that our caravan of urgently needed medical supplies and hurricane relief makes it to Cuba on time," said Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. "More than ever we are committed to making sure that all the supplies donated by generous US citizens will get to the Cuban people."

The campaign to free the computers has received tremendous support from Capitol Hill and from members of the Pastors for Peace grassroots network nationwide, who are calling on the Commerce Department to demand the release of the Pastors for Peace computers for Cuba and an end to the inhumane blockade.

Latest News on the Caravan

Latest Up-to-date news on the Caravan to Cuba...

11am, Saturday, July 23, 2005

Cuba Caravan arrives to Tampico, Mexico safely, with aid en route to Cuba Fight for Computers continues in the US

An excited but exhausted Caravan arrived to Tampico, Mexico this morning in time to make their flight to Cuba. Meanwhile a group of Caravanistas not planning to travel on to Cuba is readying to load the nearly 140 Tons of humanitarian aid on to a cargo ship heading to Cuba.

The Caravan had finally rolled out of the border town, Reynosa, around 1pm yesterday, after long hours at the Mexican customs office. Caravanistas were forced to have their passports copied by the Mexican officials, which is far from ordinary. The director of the office, Justo Ayala, said that it was rutine for large groups, but Caravanistas said that it has never been the case before.

With 90% of the humanitarian aid in Mexico and soon to be headed off to Cuba, the struggle now turns to Hidalgo, Texas, where a small group of Caravanistas has begun an international campaign to free the computers confiscated by the Department of Commerce, and force the Government to allow the all of the computers to head on to the Cuban children they are destined for.


Call Capitol Hill and let your senators and rep know that the Pastors for Peace computers must be freed to go to Cuba. Ask them to call the Commerce Department to urge/demand that the computers be released. (Congressional switchboard: 202/225-3121).

Call Mr. Turner, Director of Enforcement at the Commerce Department (202/482-5036), and demand that the computers be allowed to go to Cuba.

Mobilize every network and organization you know; ask them to make these same calls, and publicize this story! posted by caravanista

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Pastors woman detained at Mexican border

Authorities stop convoy of aid trying to get to Cuba

Messages of protest can be sent to the US Department's Secretary Gutierrez by email at:

Hidalgo Texas, 21 July: Activist Juanita Rodriguez and members of the organization Pastors for Peace were reportedly detained for several hours on Thursday as they tried to cross the U.S./Mexico border at Hidalgo, Texas.

The group is attempting to bring humanitarian aid, such as medicine and computers, into Cuba via Mexico, loaded into eight buses. It is an annual effort, known as "Caravan to Cuba," and 130 members of the organization are attempting to cross into Mexico.

Americans are required to obtain special licenses before traveling to Cuba, and are also required to get a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control before exporting certain items into Cuba. Pastors for Peace has refused to obtain such licenses, and according to its official blog at, "It is a matter of principle for Pastors for Peace not to request licenses for humanitarian aid it takes to the people of Cuba."

Rodriguez contacted her daughter, Juanita Scheele of Corvallis, Thursday morning via text-message to tell her that the group was having trouble crossing the border.

"We are 13 vehicles, all in a line, here sweltering at the border in locked buses?" And later, "Urgent. We are being stuck here on border by Homeland Security ? will not let us through ?"

Scheele, at her mother's request, began contacting government representatives and the media as soon as she received the messages. She said she had been in contact with Congressman Peter DeFazio's office, and worried that her mother might be arrested.

By late afternoon, a few of the buses had been allowed to cross the border. An afternoon blog posting by Rev. Lucius Walker, one of the leaders of the group, described the seizure of some of the group's aid material, and his frustration.

"The Commerce Dept. has seized a number of computers and other electronic items such as calculators from one of the Pastors for Peace buses. They have also rummaged through all of the other boxes, disrupting all of the manifesting that has taken place for the aid. We are not certain if this will disallow the aid to pass through Mexican customs because of their tampering."

Rick Pauza, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in south Texas, spoke via cell phone from the border crossing at Hidalgo, where the caravan was still trying to cross over into Mexico. Pauza said customs was still in the process of doing outbound examinations of all the buses, and that two had already been allowed to cross the border.

However, Pauza said that customs had "detained communication devices," that is, computers and other electronic equipment the group was taking to Cuba. He said since the group had not obtained a license to export the devices, customs had confiscated them.

He added that it was a slow process and customs officials were trying to get through all the buses without obstructing others trying to cross the border.

"They've been resisting the inspection," Pauza said, including not wanting to move their buses into a separate line for inspection, he said. ‘It's been a lengthy process."

Pauza said no one had been detained or arrested during the inspection, and that they were all expected to be allowed to cross the border.

Stop Press: Pastors for Peace convoy halted by US Commerce Department

Thursday 21 June 2005 8.00pm: The Pastors For Peace Convoy carrying solidarity goods to Cuba has been stopped at the US-Mexico border.

The blockade-busting convoy's leading bus has been impounded and the others expect the same treatment.

The Pastor's convoy takes aid to Cuba every year in breach of the US economic blockade regulations. It has not been stopped for some years, so this action is perhaps an indication of the toughening stance of the Bush administration on the Cuba issue.

The Commerce Department has said it intends to inspect all the solidarity goods and seize all unlicensed goods - which will mean most of the 60 tons on board the buses.

There are eight vehicles in the convoy, of which six are to be donated to Cuba,including one donated by the US-Cuba Labour Exchange group to the CTC (Cuba's TUC).

There are 130 activists in the convoy, 115 are US citizens, the rest from Canada and Europe including all the nations of the British Isles. Two, John Waller and Dyrind Arthur from Scotland, are members of the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

One US citizen, so angry at GW Bush's derisory offer of $50,000 aid to Cuba in the wake of the devastating passage of Hurricane Dennis two weeks ago, has donated $50,000 of her own money to be spent in Mexico on solidarity goods!

US supporters have activated their emergency response network are leading the defence of the convoy by phoning and emailing their congressional representatives to put pressure on the US Department of Commerce to release the convoy and its goods.

Every year some attempt is made to obstruct the convoy, which travels in defiance of US anti-Cuba legislation. Protest has normally led to the convoy being permitted to proceed.

Messages of protest can be sent to the Department's Secretary Gutierrez by email at:

The Pastors for Peace Director of Communications is Lucia Bruno, whose number is (001) 212 926 5757

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